Apologies to the gents, but our choice for pond-dipping is strictly for the fairer sex: Kenwood Ladies’ Pond trumps the men-only and mixed versions by a country mile. But you’ll have to take our word for it: uniquely among Hampstead Heath’s bathing lakes, the Ladies’ Pond is fenced off and screened by woodland. This seclusion is part of its charm: whether you’re taking a dip or lounging in the idyllic meadow, you feel 400 miles from central London, rather than four. Fleet river currents tickle your toes as you swim, and you might spot a kingfisher. Go now: flood-control plans under consideration might affect the lovely natural landscaping. Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Millfield Lane, NW6 3ED (7485 3873, www.cityoflondon.gov.uk).
2. Sign up to Bandstand Busking
This enterprising initiative is using bandstands for what the Victorians designed them for – our entertainment. Join the mailing list at www.bandstandbusking.com to find out about the free gigs, which attract up to 200 like-minded music- lovers. Past performers include Wild Beasts, Ed Harcourt and folk heart-throb Johnny Flynn.
3. Ski across Hyde Park
London being somewhat short on snowy and suitable terrain, cross-country skiing isn’t the easiest of hobbies to pursue. Help is at hand, though, thanks to the enterprising folk at Rollerski (8348 2540, www.rollerski.co.uk). On Saturday mornings, they don ski boots and rollerskis (shorter than skis, and with wheels at the ends) to power across Hyde Park, leading groups of learners. You may get a few funny looks, but it’s great preparation for the real thing; Ben Fogle and James Cracknell used rollerskis to train for their race to the South Pole.
4-14. Test the water at London’s lidos
For full details of London’s lidos (and to join the campaign to reopen those that have closed), visit www.lidos.org.uk.
Transformed by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, this 1930s lido now sports a poolside café, a gym, and yoga and Pilates studios. Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, SE24 0PA (7274 3088, www.brockwell-lido.co.uk).
There are two indoor pools here, but it’s the outdoor pool and sun terrace that make it such a draw for locals in summer. Great North Leisure Park, Chaplin Square, High Road, N12 0GL (8343 9830, www.gll.org).
The water is heated to 28°C at Hampton Pool, and there’s a learner pool for babies and toddlers. High Street, Hampton, Middx TW12 2ST (8255 1116, www.hamptonpool.co.uk).
London Fields Lido
This east London lido measures an Olympian 50m – which is why the US Paralympic team plans to train here. It’s heated to around 25oC, and has two cafés at which to refuel. There are lanes for slow, medium and fast swimmers and usually for general swimming too (but check first). London Fields Westside, E8 3EU (7254 9038, www.gll.org).
Oasis Sports Centre
This heated 28m outdoor pool is open year round, and is particularly appealing in winter, when steam rises from the surface (it’s a chilly dash from the changing rooms, mind). There’s a 25m indoor pool, too. 32 Endell Street, WC2H 9AG (7831 1804, www.gll.org).
Park Road Pools
Crouch End’s 50m lido dates from 1929. The centre includes diving areas, a children’s pool, exercise studios, a steam and sauna room, and strips of lawn that lend themselves to lounging when the sun’s out. Park Road, N8 8JN (8341 3567, www.haringey.gov.uk/leisure).
Parliament Hill Lido
Built in 1938, Parliament Hill Lido measures a generous 60m by 28m. It’s unheated, but wetsuits are permitted at the lifeguard’s discretion. There’s a paddling pool for under-fives, and a café. Gordon House Road, NW5 1NB (7485 3873, www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/hampstead).
Pools on the Park
This sports complex inside the picturesque Old Deer Park features a 33m heated outdoor pool, and one the same size inside. Old Deer Park, Twickenham Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2SF (8940 0561, www.springhealth.net).
This picturesque freshwater pool is a London institution, beloved by swimmers and ducks. During the London 2012 Games, the Serpentine will host the Swimming 10k Marathon as well as the swimming element of the Triathalon. Hyde Park, W2 2UH (7706 3422, www.serpentinelido.com).
Tooting Bec Lido
At 94m by 25m, Tooting Bec’s art deco beauty is the second largest open-air pool in Europe. There’s a paddling pool for splash-happy toddlers. Tooting Bec Road, SW16 1RU (8871 7198, www.wandsworth.gov.uk).
Originally opened in 1935, Uxbridge’s Grade II-listed art deco lido was rescued from dereliction and reopened in 2010. Additions include heated shallow pools for kids (the main pool is unheated) and decorative fountains. Gatting Way, Park Road, Uxbridge, Middx UB8 1NR (0845 130 7324, www.fusion-lifestyle.com).
15. Canoe through Camden
Strolling along the Regent’s Canal, you may have spotted a strange, turreted brick building on the bank near Camden, jutting out over the water. Turns out it’s swarming with pirates – namely the volunteers who run Pirate Castle, an independent watersports centre. Set up in the 1960s, when it operated from its founder’s back garden, it’s now a fully-fledged charity. Along with its community work, the centre offers drop-in canoe and kayak sessions for young people and adults, plus longer courses and school holiday schemes. With prices starting at £1 a session for eight to 17s, and £5 for adults, it’s an affordable way to get on the water. Oval Road, NW1 7EA (7267 6605, www.thepiratecastle.org).
16-21. Row your boat
The capital’s parks present ample opportunity for messing about on the water. Most boating lakes are open from Easter to autumn, closing by sundown; prices given below are for adults, but there are discounts for children and families.
London’s biggest boating lake, the Serpentine (Hyde Park, Serpentine Road, W2 2UH, 7262 1330, www.royalparks.org.uk) offers plenty of room for manoeuvre, and has over 100 rowboats and pedalos for hire; it’s more expensive than most, though, charging £8 for 30 minutes or £10 an hour.
In Regent’s Park (Outer Circle, NW1 4NR, 0300 061 2300, www.royalparks.org.uk) boaters share the water with more than 650 wildfowl, including 260 pairs of resident ducks. Twenty pedalos and 30 rowing boats are available for £4.85 per half hour or £6.50 per hour: a £5 deposit is required.
The lake at Alexandra Park (Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY, 8365 2121, www.alexandrapalace.com), meanwhile, is populated by irresistibly kitsch, antique-looking, swan-shaped pedalos, yours for £5 per half hour (50p more than the more conventional craft, but worth every penny).
A Lottery grant has restored the once-neglected boating lake at Finsbury Park (Seven Sisters Road, N4 2NQ, 07905 924282, www.finsburyparkboats.co.uk) to its former glory, and you can row alongside the ducks and swans for £6 per half hour.
Although the concrete pond at Greenwich Park (Romney Road, SE10 9NF, 7262 1330, www.royalparks.org.uk) might not have the verdant appeal of its rivals, it remains a popular choice at just £4 for half an hour of boating. Situated near the St Mary’s Gate entrance, the lake often stays open late on summer evenings.
In Battersea Park (Albert Bridge Road, SW11 4NJ, 7262 1330, www.batterseapark.org), pedalos and rowing boats are a reasonable £5 per half hour, or £7 an hour. Ringed by ancient trees, the lake is quite a looker: its two islands, off-bounds to boaters, shelter herons, cormorants and grebes.
22-27. Pay tribute to London’s great trees
Having survived centuries of disease and development, London’s ancient trees deserve some appreciation. Here are six of our all-time favourites. For more on the city’s trees, visit www.treesforcities.org.
The Amwell Fig
Standing next to Clerkenwell Primary School (Amwell Street, EC1R 1UN), this bountiful fig tree is actually made up of three trees, whose branches and foliage have grown together to form one crown. Gratefully resting its limbs on four A-shaped supports (it is around 200 years old, after all), it produces an abundance of fruit, which litters the pavement below.
The Forty Hall Cedar of Lebanon
Soaring over the Grade II-listed grounds of Forty Hall, Enfield (Forty Hill, EN2 9HA), this beauty is one of the oldest cedars of Lebanon in the country, planted around the turn of the 18th century. Its huge girth and massive branches are undeniably impressive; afterwards, stroll the serene park and have a cup of tea in the café.
The Ravenscourt Plane
There’s something strangely human about this bulbous plane tree. Standing at the southern end of Ravenscourt Park, halfway down the path that runs through the central open area, it appears to have grown outwards rather than upwards. The two lowest branches look like feeble, skinny arms, waving in indignation; the overall effect is of a querulous but lovable old eccentric.
The Richmond Royal Oak
Looking for one particular tree in leafy Richmond Park might seem crazy – but once you get near the right area, there’s no missing this squat oak, set in a ferny clearing. Thought to be around 750 years old, its gnarled trunk exudes a fairytale quality, with a huge split that looks like the door to another world. To find the tree from the park’s Richmond Gate entrance, follow Sawyer’s Hill then take the footpath by the north-eastern side of Sidmouth Wood and head round the wood’s eastern flank, near Queen Elizabeth’s Plantation to the north-west of Pen Ponds. Here you’ll find the oak.
The St Pancras Churchyard Ash
Ringed by a low privet hedge, the ash tree that stands in Old St Pancras Churchyard (Old Church, Pancras Road, NW1 1UL) looks unremarkable at first. Get closer, though, and you’ll see that its vast trunk is in the process of swallowing up the crazily tilted welter of tombstones that surround it.
The Totteridge Yew
In 1796, Dr S Lyons wrote of ‘a yew tree of a very remarkable size, its girth, at three feet from the ground, being 26 feet’. The yew is still there – and, at around 2,000 years old, is London’s oldest tree. It’s a spritely ancient, with vigorous new growth, set in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church (Totteridge, Barnet, Herts N20 8PR). It generally stands guard over the dead – but in 1722, a baby was abandoned in its shelter, and named Henry Totteridge. Creep under the wide, low limbs and shaggy branches to admire its ancient heart and incredible textured trunk.
28. Be inspired by tales of gallantry
For quiet contemplation of everyday heroes, visit Postman’s Park (between King Edward Street & Aldersgate Street, EC2Y 5HN), a tranquil slice of hidden greenery near the Museum of London. Here, you’ll find the Watts Memorial to Heroic Sacrifice: a series of Victorian ceramic plaques that pay tribute to ordinary people who died trying to save others. Many of the dead were children – among them 11-year-old Solomon Galaman, who ‘died of injuries September 6 1901 after saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street’. Sit on a bench and pay a moment’s tribute.
29. Become a guerrilla gardener
At its most basic level, guerilla gardening can be as simple as blowing a dandelion clock or shaking out a seed pod. Alternatively, you can join forces with like-minded souls to beautify neglected public spaces with targeted (if unsanctioned) horticultural interventions. All sorts of green-fingered forays are recorded on www.guerillagardening.org, many of them in London. As well as offering tips, techniques and details of proposed planting missions, the site tells you how to make clay ‘seed bombs’ that will make wastelands explode with life.
30-40. Dine alfresco
A bit of a secret, this one: the terrace at the Royal Opera House, overlooking Covent Garden, is open to the public most days (call to check), and only surrendered to ticket holders come the evening. The food is quintessentially British: chilled pea soup, say, with poached salmon to follow. Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD (7212 9254, www.roh.org.uk).
The Conran-backed Boundary Project has a fine rooftop bar and restaurant, with panoramic views of London. The simple, summery menu is based around grills (lobster, rib-eye steak), and goods from the deli downstairs. Sunscreen is supplied on bright afternoons; in the evening, heaters and thick wool blankets keep diners warm. 2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD (7729 1051, www.theboundary.co.uk).
If you can get to Hampstead Heath early, head to the Brew House for a terrific cooked breakfast, then potter around the terraces with your tray until you find the right combination of parasol shade and sunshine above Kenwood House’s sweeping lawn. Lunches are of the superior canteen variety. And did we mention the cakes? Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, NW3 7JR (8341 5384, www.companyofcooks.com).
Clerkenwell Kitchen no longer accepts bookings for its six outdoor tables, so you’ll have to turn up and take your chances. Surrounded by office buildings, the quiet courtyard is a lovely spot to enjoy seasonal, organic fare. 27-31 Clerkenwell Close, EC1R 0AT (7101 9959, www.theclerkenwellkitchen.co.uk).
If panoramic views are high on your wish list, you can’t go far wrong with the Coq d’Argent: St Paul’s, the Gherkin and the Shard are all in plain sight from its rooftop terrace, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Crystal Palace. The food is all about top-end City sophistication, but there’s a good-value set lunch. 1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ (7395 5000, www.coqdargent.co.uk).
The sun-trap courtyard at this Primrose Hill gastropub is an inviting prospect, with tables shaded by canopies or moveable brollies, a pergola at one end, and heaters for chilly evenings. The food is equally polished, though prices reflect the smart locale. 65 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8JH (7483 1890, www.theengineerprimrosehill.co.uk).
You win indoors and out at the Saatchi Gallery’s brasserie, either surrounded by modern art or enjoying the capacious, buzzy patio. The food is classy café: salmon ceviche with guacamole and chilli, perhaps, or quinoa and chicken salad. Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, SW3 4LY (7730 8135, www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk).
This relaxed little bistro has a sweet first-floor terrace, with parasols, heaters and plants. The menu is a celebration of Greek meze, from dips and stuffed peppers to grilled octopus. 1 Hillgate Street, W8 7SP (7792 5226, www.greekaffair.co.uk).
41. Buy a bouquet on Columbia Road
Of a Sunday morning (from 8am until around 2pm), there’s no lovelier place to be than this East End flower market (www.columbiaroad.info). Columbia Road becomes a sea of blooms, lined with hothouse beauties, buckets of roses and bargain bedding plants. Savvy locals turn up at the close of play: as the stallholders start packing up, you can score some real bargains.
42. Kayak at dawn
For an unusually peaceful perspective on the city, sign up for a sunrise kayaking tour of the Regent’s Canal, organised by Thames River Adventures (0845 453 2002), www.thamesriveradventures.co.uk). You may have to meet the group at Primrose Bridge at an unearthly hour (4am in summer, 7am in winter), but the serene slice of city life more than makes up for it; aside from the odd jogger or dog walker, you’ll hardly see a soul.
44-48. Sip cocktails in the clouds
On clement summer evenings, head for a sundowner at one of the capital’s rooftop bars.
Aqua Nueva & Aqua Kyoto
Visiting the ritzy roof terrace bars at either of the Aqua restaurants feels like walking into a set for a music video with a London skyline. Sip an exotic cocktail, or sample Kyoto’s saké list. 5th floor, 240 Regent Street, W1B 3BR (7478 0540, www.aqua-london.com).
Ascend in the lift to emerge high above east London. Wicker chairs and sofas are surrounded by shrubbery; later on, heaters, a wood-burning fire and wool blankets keep chills at bay. 2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD (7729 1051, www.theboundary.co.uk).
Brera at Lyric Hammersmith
Overlooking hectic King Street, the Lyric’s large terrace is a haven of planters, foliage and comfy seating, run by Italian pizza chain Brera. Lyric Hammersmith, 2 King Street, W6 0QL (8741 6853, www.cafebrera.com).
Dalston Roof Park
An architect-designed, astroturfed haven, with beds of strawberries and herbs and a wooden shack dispensing the drinks: Pimms, draught beer and cocktails. Print House, 18 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL (7275 0825, www.bootstrapcompany.co.uk).
No.5 Cavendish Square
Common folk are now welcome in some areas of this hitherto members-only club. Take the lift to the second floor, then walk up to the decked roof. A tiny bar serves a short menu of cocktails, including a mean mojito; there’s also bottled beer, tapas and cigars. 5 Cavendish Square, W1G 0PG (7079 5000, www.no5ltd.com).
The large roof terrace at this hip gallery, bar and club complex is ideal for supping cocktails and observing both the art and the arty crowd. Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AH (7482 3867, www.proudcamden.com).
49. Spot parakeets in London’s parks
Their introduction may be shrouded in myth (some say Jimi Hendrix released the first flock on Carnaby Street in the 1960s), but it’s a fact that emerald-green parakeets can now be spotted in parks and gardens all over the capital, with a particular concentration in south-west London. That these noisy birds originate from the Himalayas explains how they have survived the cold English winters. They’ve positively thrived, in fact, with population estimates around the 20,000 mark. The best spots to see them are Richmond Park, Kew Gardens and the suburbs on the London-Surrey border; Hampstead Heath and Hyde Park also harbour a fair number.
50. Cycle a secret railway
Tree-canopied and almost invisible from the surrounding streets, the Parkland Walk (www.parkland-walk.org.uk) cuts an east–west swathe across north London. Running four and a half miles from Finsbury Park to Highgate, along a disused railway line, it makes for a delightful off-road ride. A sign at the Highgate end lists the resident flora and fauna, including foxes, hedgehogs, butterflies and even muntjac deer (though we’ve never spotted one).